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Man admits setting fire to church

Published April 13. 2010 05:00PM

A Penn Forest Township man pleaded guilty in Carbon County court on Monday in three pending cases, including setting fire to a church causing several hundred thousands of dollars in damages.

Andrew Wargo Griffith, 31, of Wargo Drive, pleaded guilty before Senior Judge Richard W. Webb in courtroom two as 133 prospective jurors waited in courtroom one for jury selection in the case.

Griffith was charged in connection with a fire that extensively damaged the Christ Lutheran Church, on Church Road., Penn Forest Township, on Nov. 4, 2006. He was also charged with returning to the church on Nov. 7, 2006, to start a second fire to destroy any evidence that he felt might led to him. While he and con-defendant, John Joseph Petrovich were at the church Trooper David Klitsch drove by and saw the car and stopped to investigate. He took both men into custody at the scene. Klitsch, a state police fire marshal, is the prosecutor in the Christ Lutheran Church case.

He was also charged with entering the Light House Baptist Church on Green Street, in Franklin Township, on Oct. 19, 2006, and removing a check which he placed in his checking account.

In all three cases he was charged along with Petrovich, 35, of 120 Leintz Trail, Jim Thorpe, who is his cousin. Petrovich cooperated with police in their investigation of the incidents and testified against Griffith at his preliminary hearing.

Yesterday Griffith pleaded to one count each of receiving stolen property, a misdemeanor one, and criminal trespass, a felony two, for the Franklin Township incident.

He pleaded to one count each of arson, a felony one, burglary, a felony two, and institutional destruction of venerable objects, a misdemeanor two, for the Nov. 4 entry and setting fire to the Christ Lutheran Church. He pleaded to one count of criminal trespass, a felony two, for the Nov. 7 entery at the fire scene.

Webb accepted the pleas but deferred sentencing ordering a presentence investigation (PSI) be prepared by the adult probation office.

The fire at the church caused an estimated $700,000 in damages. The church has since been rebuilt. In the Franklin incident a check for $1,500 was removed and damages estimated at $500.

In all the cases part of the plea agreement calls for restitution be made by the defendant in an equal amount with the co-defendant.

Petrovich pleaded guilty to five criminal counts in the three cases in 2008. He was sentenced on Sept. 23, 2008, by the late Judge David W. Addy to serve a total of nine to 23 months in prison followed by five years of probation. He was also ordered to make restitution of $894,647, which was broken down to $162,410 to Christ Lutheran; $730,152 to Zurich American Insurance, the carrier for the church; and $2,085 to Light House Baptist Church.

The Griffith case has had a long trek through the court system. There has been a total of 39 continuances granted in the case. Griffith has had at least three different lawyers represent him. He filed a petition stating he was not competent to stand trial due to head injuries he suffered in an automoble accident that occurred after the crimes. That petition was denied by Webb, who took over the case after the death of Judge Addy.

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